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Matters of Time

Material Temporalities in Twentieth-Century French Culture


Edited By Lisa Jeschke and Adrian May

Matters of Time provides an unorthodox array of perspectives on materialist thought and representation in twentieth-century French intellectual culture. Time is figured as the quintessential revolutionary concept, through key historical moments from Jean Jaurès’ orientation of the socialists at the turn of the century to the inter-generational conflict and politicization of everyday life in May ’68. Essays on dialectics and theories of teleological progress are placed side by side with accounts of the existential turn in Marxist thought in France. Contributions on Heidegger and Sartre inject meditations on human mortality into considerations of a new politics of finitude. The volume also emphasizes the inseparability of aesthetic and political thought for the French avant-gardes: chapters on Sade, Artaud and Jarry place Marx’s theories of production and commodity fetishism into contact with bodily abjection. The manipulation of time in cinema and matter in painting are examined as a testament to the twentieth century as a period of continuing experimental tension between form and signification. Generational futurity is explored through Genet’s spatial representations of filiation and Verlaine’s proto-ecological attunement to nature. The volume as a whole constructs a necessarily fragmented timeline of the breaks, tensions and antagonisms in twentieth-century French thought, culture and politics, with particular focus on questions of late capitalism and political, intellectual and aesthetic progress and regress.
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← 126 | 127 → MARTIN CROWLEY

To be human is to be finite. Res extensa, matter bounded corporeally in space, of course; but also, crucially, in relation to time. As Sartre observed in 1945, my existence, as a human existence, is defined by my exposure to a three-fold necessity: I am by definition – for the time being, perhaps –obliged to be born, to die (to find myself within this temporality, nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita), and also to find myself existing amidst a multitude of other finite beings.1 This may not in itself distinguish thehuman from other similarly finite beings, of course; for the strain of thought which derives from Heidegger’s analysis of fundamental existential structures, however (and despite Heidegger’s own vexed anthropocentrism), exposure to this finitude, and especially to this temporality, is indeed distinctively human. Even this apparently qualified form of human exceptionalism remains wholly debatable, to be sure; but this will not be my focus here. Rather, I wish to explore the ways in which this thought of human finitude may be connected to an egalitarian politics. For as Jean-Luc Nancy, in particular, has frequently insisted (pace Sartre), finitude is not available for appropriation – either as a resource, as the foundation of a project, or as an object for consciousness or the will. Finitude is, in this sense, radically and paradoxically shared: it is what we all, in common, are exposed to and cannot appropriate. This state of affairs presents us with a form of irreducible...

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